Milwaukee Film Blog

posted by Jonathan on January 1st, 2014

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Stories We Tell

We kick off the new year with the conclusion of our year-end staff favorites. And who better to wrap up all this fun than Artistic and Executive Director Jonathan Jackson. 

2013 was an amazing year for cinema, especially that which blurred the line between fiction and documentary. This year that line seemed to blur further than ever, even seeming to disappear entirely at times. (As was the case with my favorite film of the year.) And while blockbuster sequels and television may be distracting the best in Hollywood, the film medium is more accessible and nimble than ever before, and ripe with makers creating some of the greatest, risk-taking and original cinema found worldwide.

10. Mud
(dir. Jeff Nichols)
Jeff Nichols' follow-up to Take Shelter is no less than an attempt to create the Great American Novel on screen. I wish more American independent films had this much ambition.

9. Which Way is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Times of Tim Hetherington
(dir. Sebastian Junger)
One of the greatest eulogies ever delivered, Sebastian Junger’s taut documentary serves as the perfect introduction to the life and work of photojournalist and artist Tim Hetherington.

8. The Act of Killing
(dir. Joshua Oppenheimer)
Joshua Oppenheimer’s eight years in the making documentary is the closest I imagine one can come to getting inside the heads of mass murderers.

7. Amour
(dir. Michael Haneke)
Austrian master Michael Haneke’s exquisitely crafted and acted look at life’s end is as emotionally wrenching as it is intellectually rewarding.

6. The Crash Reel
(dir. Lucy Walker)
This serious-minded extreme sports documentary unexpectedly becomes a moving study of family dynamics and existential drive.

5. Upstream Color
(dir. Shane Carruth)
This modern day Walden is a sensory experience that only cinema could deliver.

4. Zero Dark Thirty
(dir. Kathryn Bigelow)
This first-rate, slow-burn thriller delivers the true-life story of the discovery and murder of America’s public enemy number one with the complexity it warrants.

3. American Hustle
(dir. David O. Russell)
An unwieldy and wildly entertaining acting showcase that revels in a Hollywood version of American life at the end of the ‘70s, American Hustle features my favorite performance of the year: Christian Bale as con man Irving Rosenfeld.

2. Before Midnight
(dir. Richard Linklater)
Three artists collaborating at the height of their powers, director Richard Linklater and stars Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke come together to create the greatest sequel in the history of cinema and to prove ultimately that in cinema, like in life, a great conversation can be more thrilling than an explosion.

1. Stories We Tell
(dir. Sarah Polley)
More personal essay than traditional documentary, Sarah Polley’s brilliantly crafted meditation on memory, truth and family was my favorite film of the year because it told me more about human nature than any other film, while simultaneously expanding the possibilities of storytelling in the medium.

10 HONORABLE MENTIONS: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Beyond the Hills, Drug War, Gravity, The Great Beauty, In the House, Lore, Muscle Shoals, Short Term 12, and War Witch.

WAIT 'TIL NEXT YEAR, BECAUSE I HAVEN'T SEEN THESE YET: 12 Years a Slave, All is Lost, Computer Chess, and Inside Llewyn Davis.

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Blyth, our Marketing Director
Milan, our Marketing Coordinator

• Kyle, our Managing Director
• Kristopher, our Membership Coordinator
• Benjamin, our Development Director
• Anna, our Shorts Programmer
• Angela, our Programming Manager



posted by Blyth on December 31st, 2013

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Marketing Director Blyth loves films. She loves watching them. She loves making them. She even hosts a radio show about them. Here's her year-end list!

In no particular order, here’s the films I saw in 2013 that profoundly moved me.

(dir: Claire Denis)
Denis’ latest crime thriller Bastards can be seen as a companion piece to her 2008 film 35 Shots of Rum--both of which are examinations of the complexity and fragility of familial relationships. But where the earlier film was focused solely and deeply on love, this new film delves into the much more complicated territory of suicide, incest and sexual slavery. I hesitate to spell out any more of the film than that, since it is such a powerful viewing experience. Like almost all of her films, Denis collaborates with the incomparable Agnes Godard behind the camera (their first together on digital video) and Tindersticks to create a tension-filled (and slightly creepy) score.  

Frances Ha
(dir: Noah Baumbach)
Hitting so many right notes about women’s experiences, friendships, and growing up, this collaboration between (now partners) Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig is steeped in joy, even when the characters are in existential crisis. Who doesn’t want to run/dance through the crosswalks of Manhattan to the soundtrack of David Bowie’s “Modern Love”? Sounds like the perfect day to me. Gerwig creates a character that is fully and relentlessly herself. To me, this feels like mumblecore all grown up. And that’s not at all a bad thing.

Stories We Tell
(dir: Sarah Polley)
Leave it to the insanely talented Sarah Polley to take personal familial crisis and turn it into one of the year’s most boundary-pushing and moving documentaries. The Canadian director enlists her real family members as storytellers and casts spot-on doppelgangers in 16mm recreations of the family’s remembrances. Polley doesn’t make her family (or herself) out to be saints or sinners, but merely ordinary, complicated people living ordinary, complicated lives.

After Tiller
(dirs: Martha Shane, Lana Wilson)
One of the things I appreciate most in this doc about the potentially explosive topic of late-term abortion is the way it lets all parties involved—doctors, clinic workers, pregnant women and their partners—speak honestly and openly about the complexity of the decisions being made. To preserve their anonymity, the camera focuses on the mothers’ hands and very pregnant bellies while they meet with the doctors. As we watch their fingers fumble with used tissues and their voices crack, it’s not hard to see that nothing about this impossible decision is simple.

Ain't Them Bodies Saints
(dir: David Lowery)
In a movie filled with great performances (Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara) and a sparse but timeless screenplay, the real heart-stopper for me was Bradford Young’s cinematography. The opening scene with the two leads at magic hour in a field is worth the price of admission alone. This was the first time director (and Wisconsin native) Lowery teamed with Young, and I’ve got my fingers crossed it won’t be the last. Their work together is something other-worldly.

(dir: Urusla Meier)
This second feature from Ursula Meier is a huge leap forward for the German director. I really enjoyed her first film Home, but this one held together more solidly from start to finish. It’s an incredibly subtle slow-building movie, but when I got to the last scene, I wanted to sit through it again immediately. It’s the second film on my list shot by Agnes Godard. (Who says women don’t make great cinematographers?)

Upstream Color
(dir: Shane Carruth)
Carruth’s incredible one-man filmmaking show contained one of the most visceral scenes of the year for me. As an audience member, if you could turn off the logic portion of your brain, you were rewarded with a sensory experience like none other. And if you really love watching worms wind a path underneath the skin, then bingo! This is the film for you.

August: Osage County
(dir: John Wells)
For those of you in Milwaukee who have never visited Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater, please make it your New Year’s resolution. Founded by Gary Sinise, Terry Kinney and Jeff Perry, the Steppenwolf has been staging the country’s best theater for years--I personally feel it’s a better bet than Broadway (at a fraction of the price and only an hour away). This film is based on Tracy Letts' multiple-award-winning play that began life at that theater. And woo-hoo, is it a barn-burner. Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep fight. Literally! Like, punches and everything! (See the poster on Milan’s post from yesterday.)

Bayou Maharajah: The Tragic Genius of James Booker
(dir: Lily Keber)
Watching this doc about New Orleanian piano player James Booker, I kept thinking the same thing over and over: How did I not know this incredible pianist? Shame on me. And thanks to Lily Keber for putting together this portrait of a gripping musician that deserved more time in the sun. Filled with remembrances from a slew of grateful fellow musicians, none moved me more than the stories told by Harry Connick, Jr., which reveal a tender heart and a true genius.

(dir: Aleksander Dovshenko)
This is cheating, I’ll admit. I mean, the film came out in 1930, but I only just got around to watching it in 2013! Without a doubt, one of my favorite cinematic experiences ever was our festival Centerpiece screening this year. Being immersed in Dovshenko’s slightly propagandist film with an original score by the incredible local band Altos was devastating and exhilarating and mesmerizing. I can’t thank them enough for the goosebumps that night.

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Milan, our Marketing Coordinator
• Kyle, our Managing Director
• Kristopher, our Membership Coordinator
• Benjamin, our Development Director
• Anna, our Shorts Programmer
• Angela, our Programming Manager


posted by Milan on December 30th, 2013

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It's not all that surprising to see 1/2 of our marketing department talk about marketing materials instead of films. But Milan's insistence on having his list be about posters stems more from the fact that before he was our Marketing Coordinator, he made his living as a designer and artist, making more posters than he can count for all sorts of shows and events. Here are his ten favorites of 2013, in no particular order.

Bayou Maharajah: The Tragic Genius of James Booker
(dir. Lily Keber)
Though it was a pleasure using Anton Corbjn’s photo in our promotional materials when this film screened as part of MFF 2013’s Sound Vision program, this poster has been on my “favorites” radar since it was unveiled earlier in the year, and captures the film's subject so incredibly well.

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295 Berberian Sound Studio
(dir. Peter Strickland)
I’m an enormous fan of posters that are tops in both form and function, and Berberian Sound Studio seems to have multiple posters that do just that. This one is my favorite of the bunch.

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296 Ship of Theseus
(dir. Anand Gandhi)
I liked this one, however, because it's just plain beautiful.

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297 The Pervert's Guide to Ideology
(dir. Sophie Fiennes)
Of all the posters hanging in this office,
Akkiko Stehrenberger’s poster for The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology is my favorite from MFF 2013. Akkiko's workload this year included posters for Kiss of the Damned, Spring Breakers, and a couple of hilarious ones for Jacob Vaughan’s Bad Milo. She also created posters and one sheets for We Need to Talk About Kevin (MFF 2011) and the second season of Louie. Go on. Bookmark her website. I'll wait.

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298 Oldboy
(dir. Spike Lee)
If you’ve never seen the original
Oldboy, but saw this poster and wondered why in the heck Josh Brolin was popping out of a trunk in the middle of a field where a girl with an umbrella was standing, you should watch the original Oldboy (2003, dir. Park Chan-wook). Spike Lee having his remake's poster reference one of the more peculiar situations in a film full of them made me a little less skeptical of the remake. (Note: I still haven't seen the remake.)

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299 Nebraska
(dir. Alexander Payne)
This poster is a really lovely complement to its film and Bruce Dern’s character. It also constantly reminds me of
the Eraserhead poster for some reason. It was designed by BLT Communications, who did a poster for Blue is the Warmest Color, as well as seemingly every blockbuster feature known to man. (Including those X-Men: Days of Future Past ones I’m admittedly a big fan of.)

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300 The Central Park Five
(dirs. Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon)
This simple concept is so well executed, I hate whoever designed this because they are a gifted genius. 

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301 Blue Caprice
(dir. Alexandre Moors)
Everything about this poster reminds me of exactly how I felt when these shootings were happening in real life. (I'm also a sucker for large amounts of well-used negative space.) And the agency responsible?
Gravillis Inc. They also made posters for MFF 2013 alum Narco Cultura, MFF 2012 alum The Imposter, and one of our most well-received Member Screenings, 20 Feet From Stardom.

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302 August: Osage County
(dir. John Wells)
See that face Juliette Lewis and Abigail Breslin are making? That’s the face I made when I first saw this poster.

This film is so star-studded it should fall victim to that generic Hollywood poster format, where the image is nothing more than a heavily photoshopped arrangement of cast members looking off in arbitrary directions, while the names above are listed in an order determined by contract instead of how they actually appear in said image. Instead, we get this rectangle of awesomeness.

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303 Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay
(dir. Molly Bernstein)
This could have gone in a really weird direction, like, say, putting Ricky Jay in a top hat and cape, shuffling cards in mid-air, while grinning like the kind of salespeople you see in terrible stock photography. Instead we get a really tasteful poster for a documentary about the man who's appeared in everything from the
 X-Files to Magnolia, and also happens to be a life-long student of magic tricks, slight of hand, memory feats, and card throwing.

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Kyle, our Managing Director
• Kristopher, our Membership Coordinator
• Benjamin, our Development Director
• Anna, our Shorts Programmer
• Angela, our Programming Manager




posted by Kyle on December 27th, 2013

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The Last of Us

We're taking a slight detour out of the cinema proper, and exploring some very film-like video games with Managing Director Kyle. Read on to see what his favorite video games of 2013 were.

In my years of working with Milwaukee Film, those who know me have gotten to know my passion for video games. 2013 was the year I finally convinced the staff that video games can have enough of a tie to the film world to include them in our annual "Best of the year" lists. 

Below are my Top Five Video Games for 2013:

304 5: Civilization V: Brave New World (PC/Mac)
In terms of time spent playing, this is hands down my most-played title for 2013. The improvements that Brave New World brought to the Civ V formula dramatically improved the game. However, this game also has a tie to the 2013 Milwaukee Film Festival. At our Closing Night Film, Blood Brother, director Steve Hoover asked our Artistic & Executive Director, Jonathan Jackson if he played Civilization. Unfortunately, Jonathan does not. And though I do, I didn't get a chance to talk to him. So if you are reading this Steve Hoover, make more amazing films and come back to Milwaukee so we can talk Civ!

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305 4: Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PS3)
My favorite animator is Hayao Miyazaki, so when I found out that Level 5 was making a game alongside Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli, I knew I would have to play it. The game is as close to playing an actual Miyazaki film as I could possibly hope for. It combines basic RPG (that's role-playing game, for you non-gamers reading) elements with Pokemon. The graphics and music steal the show, though, as-- like I said-- it is literally the spitting image of a Studio Ghibli film.

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309 3:The Stanley Parable (PC/Mac)
When it comes to fictional films, I prefer ones that don't have a narrator. However, in The Stanley Parable, the entire game is about the narrator. A typical game of The Stanley Parable lasts about ten minutes, however there are a seemingly infinite number of possibilities in how to complete the actual game. The game's nonlinear storytelling leads to a different ending every time, and most are laden with dark humor and excellent writing. The entire game is narated by Kevan Brighting who does an expert job in reading the hilarious (and often dark) script written by the game's designer and creator Davey Wreden.

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307 2: Bioshock: Infinite (PC/XBox 360/PS3)
I often fall for movies that have parallel dimensions and sci-fi elements that get the mind thinking regardless of plot holes and other shortfalls (see the second Matrix film) . Kevin Levine's Bioshock fits this criteria (minus the plot holes/shortfalls). In the past, it has taken gamers to intriguing worlds like Rapture, the failed underwater utopia. This time around, it's the floating city of Columbia. Without spoiling too much, the game ventures heavily into parallel universes and investigates the origins of this less-than-magical city. It also features the expert voice work of one of gaming's most ubiquitous voice actors, Troy Baker. (Who shows up again below.)

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308 1: The Last of Us (PS3)
If ever there was a game that emotionally moved me as much as a film, this is it. The Last of Us might seem like your typical zombie apocalypse game but it is far more than that. Naughty Dog studios, who produced the game, were already known for their amazingly detailed and gorgeous landscapes, but not so much their ability to tell a solid story. Troy Baker (that voice actor we mentioned above) voices Joel, who is tasked with getting a young girl to a variety of destinations. The scenes showing the decline of both the world and humanity stick with you throughout your playing time, and well beyond the game's conclusion. In addition to the voice work, this game features the actors performing motion capture, which makes the scenes even more realistic. (Watch a NSFW motion capture demo.) This attention to detail makes The Last of Us not only my game of the year, but probably also one of my favorite games of all time.

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Kristopher, our Membership Coordinator
• Benjamin, our Development Director
• Anna, our Shorts Programmer
• Angela, our Programming Manager



posted by Kristopher on December 25th, 2013

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You may know him as the man you fall in love with at every monthly Members-Only Screening. We know him as Membership Coordinator Kristopher Pollard. And when he wasn't busy managing our membership program or creating the fantastic illustrations for this year's festival campaign art, he watched a lot of films. Here are his ten favorites:

10.  Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
(dir. David Lowery)
I was thrilled by this last-minute addition to the festival this year. If you were just shown a handful of stills from this beautifully photographed film you’d have no trouble understanding what it was about. Trouble is on the way, for sure. Lovely, sepia-toned trouble. And why am I constantly surprised that Casey Affleck is a good actor? I’m sorry, Casey. I’ll try to remember.

9. Blancanieves
(dir. Pablo Berger)
This is a wonderful retelling of the Snow White story from Spain. (Snow’s a toreador. What?!?) Ah, Spain: Where everyone you see is the most beautiful person in the world. Filmed as a black and white silent film– wait, wait! Don’t stop reading. It really captures the look and feel of an old silent film, but with a contemporary pace. Very clever, funny, touching and extremely skillful story-telling. Did I mention that everyone is stunning?

8. Blood Brother
(dir. Steve Hoover)
This film has the distinction of being the movie that made me ugly-cry the most. I’m talking about "stop the movie for a minute so I can gather myself" kind of sobbing. (Luckily, no one saw.) Though there is an element of tragedy in this documentary about a man and his adopted country and family, there is also an impressive amount of joy. The relationship between Rocky and this group of amazing kids will leave a lasting impression.

7. Stories We Tell
(dir. Sarah Polley)
Sarah’s family has a secret and she made this film to delve into it. The secret is a great reason to watch this film. An even better reason is that Polley and her family are extremely interesting to listen to. They're funny, fascinating, and complicated, and the way they all tell this story is a pleasure to watch. My favorite documentary of the year, for sure.

6. This Is The End
(dir. Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg)
I wasn’t super impressed with the selection of comedies released this year, but this one made me laugh a lot. Lowbrow? Sure. These kids work blue, to be certain. But there are also some pretty clever and observational moments. Not to mention, it’s great to see these folks don’t take their celebrity statuses too seriously. All the actors play terrible versions of themselves. 

(I should point out that the following 5 films are a part of my cinematic “Year of Weird.” I saw a lot of amazing movies that didn’t always make sense to me at first. Or movies that were simply, or not so simply, cuckoo banana pants. And I loved them.)

5. Vanishing Waves
(dir. Kristina Buozyte)
A neuroscientist ventures into the mind of a comatose patient in this visually amazing… artscape (I thought I just made that word up, but I Googled it, and turns out I didn’t). Apparently when you travel into the mind of a stranger, your surroundings will be a wonderful mix of cutting edge architecture, sexual absurdity and feasts of super slimy food. If this sounds good to you, hang up your best black light poster and warm up the lava lamp.

4. Upstream Color
(dir. Shane Carruth)
Based on all the responses I’ve heard, you either love or hate this film. Me? Love it. Admittedly it took me two viewings and a couple of articles to understand everything that happened, but when you look back and see how he communicated this story, it’s pretty overwhelming. It's a truly original film with stunning photography and a sense of storytelling that doesn’t pander or lay out familiar road signs for the viewer. Carruth gives us more credit, which is refreshing.

3. Post Tenebras Lux
(dir. Carlos Reygadas)
So, weird….  I don’t even know wh…. I…

2. The Rambler
(dir. Calvin Lee Reeder)
If David Lynch, the X-Files and Samuel Beckett all had a baby using some sort of wholly unnatural science, and then that baby was adopted by an insane chicken and a giant bucket of drugs, that baby's name would be The Rambler. Make sure you’re in a safe environment when you watch this. Sit perfectly still. No sudden movements. Wait! What was that?!?

1. Borgman
(dir. Alex van Warmerdam)
A vagrant and member of some unexplained underground society insinuates himself into the home and lives of an upper-class family and causes some bizarre trouble. People throw around the word ‘absurdist’ a bit too much, so I shall do the same. Absurdist filmmaker Alex van Warmerdam is one of my new favorites. After watching Borgman, I immediately caught up on all eight of his films and was never disappointed. Strange and funny and strange. This was my favorite of the year.

*Honorable Mentions: Blackfish; The Act of Killing; Before Midnight; Blue is the Warmest Color, Iron Man 3 and War Witch. And Short Term 12…. and…. 

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Benjamin, our Development Director
Anna, our Shorts Programmer
Angela, our Programming Manager